Thursday, September 10, 2015

Johnnie To: Our Generation's Tough Guy Auteur


The classic auteurs of American cinema were often men who made tough action movies with humanistic centers. Ford, Hawks, Walsh, Huston and, later, Peckinpah, Aldrich and Fuller fit this description. Understandably, super-macho movies have suffered some downturn in respectability in recent years, but there is a director at work today in the mold of those earlier figures and he is in his filmmaking prime now. Michael Bay, Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have all staked their claims, but none has put the pieces together quite like the prolific To.

Johnnie To the action director is only one of the many Johnnie To personae. He has also made excellent dramas, comedies and romances. His new film, OFFICE aka DESIGN FOR LIVING, is a musical and it premieres on these shores next week in a limited release configuration. It will likely take its time to reach its non-Chinese-American public, and it may not reach them at all. Previous Johnnie To films have never quite found the American audiences they deserve, but he is a very great master, classically proficient and with a sense of irony and, along with frequent collaborator Wa Ka Fai, a strong perverse streak.

Here is the teaser trailer for OFFICE. I suspect that this trailer has been cut by To himself, as it does not conform to commercial norms for the Chinese market and another, more mainstream version has also been released.


While we are on the subject of other Johnnie To-cut trailers for his own films, here are some of the best, in reverse chronological order, ending with the trailer I consider my favorite of all time, for THE MISSION, in which To simply seems to string together the best two-or three-second moments in the film without regard to telling any kind of story.






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